In this decade-old blog article, Jonathan McIntosh reflects on the relationship between the Good and evil. He brings into the conversation Neoplatonism, St Thomas Aquinas, J.R.R. Tolkien, and David Bentley Hart.
A related contrast is one that has been drawn recently by Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart. Against what he perceives to be the optimistic, totalizing, evil-is-necessary-for-the-greater-good theodicies common to both Reformed Protestant theology (e.g., Calvin) and Enlightenment rationalist philosophy (e.g., Leibniz), Hart posits what he finds in the New Testament to be “a kind of ‘provisional’ cosmic dualism,” according to which this “present evil world” is a realm
ruled by spiritual and terrestrial ‘thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers’ (Col. 1:16; cf. 1 Cor. 2:8; Eph. 1:21; 3:10), by ‘the elements (stoicheia) of the world’ (Gal. 4:3), and by ‘the prince of the power of the air’ (Eph. 2:2), who—while they cannot ultimately separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38)—nevertheless contend against us…
In some ways, incidentally, this is basically the two positions Shippey finds juxtaposed and ultimately unreconciled in Tolkien’s fiction: an optimistic monism reducing all evil to a form of relative non-being existing within an all-encompassing cosmic order on the one hand, and a dualism granting evil its own alien, irreducible ontological status on the other (though Hart sees this dualism as only “provisional” and therefore temporary and not absolute, a qualification that, as we shall see, likewise has important applications for understanding Tolkien).(While this tension is indeed present within Tolkien’s writings, as stated the problem fails to appreciate what I argue elsewhere to be Tolkien’s own profound scholastic subtlety in exploiting the conceptual possibilities within an otherwise Thomistic metaphysics of creation and evil to overcome this antithesis in an even more original synthesis.)
McIntosh also introduces us to a word I’ve never encountered before—ponerology. Today’s challenge: work this word into your conversation today.